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Image of a man representing dark spots and circles under eyes

Dark spots and circles under eyes – causes, symptoms, and possible treatments

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Iman Itani from Lueur Aesthetic Clinic

Along with being the thinnest skin anywhere on the body, the skin under our eyes also has less oil-producing glands, meaning they’re often sensitive to dryness and irritation.

It’s no wonder dark spots and circles under the eyes can be one of the most common beauty bugbears for men and women of all ages.

But while they may simply be a sign of tiredness, dark spots aren’t always a result of sleepless nights or a stressful time at work.

So, what are the possible triggers of dark spots and circles under your eyes, and how can they be treated?

What are dark spots under the eyes?

Dark spots and circles can appear differently for different people, but common symptoms include:

  • Purple, blue, dark brown or black shadows clearly visible under the eyes – though the colour can vary depending on your skin tone.
  • Dull and pale skin – particularly around the eye area, which makes your blood vessels look more visible.
  • Puffy eyelids – leading to darker shadows under your eyes.
  • Bags under eyes – these often appear alongside dark circles.

What causes dark spots and circles?

While dark spots or circles are not usually a major health concern, they may indicate an underlying medical condition such as anaemia. Consult your doctor if you are concerned.

In general, non-health related factors are responsible for dark spots and circles under eyes.

Fatigue and tiredness

A constant lack of sleep, or disruption to your usual routine, can cause the blood vessels under the thin skin of the eyes to dilate, creating a dark tint.

Ageing process

As we get older, our body starts to produce less collagen and we lose some of our fatty tissue. This can cause the skin around our eyes to thin, making the blood vessels underneath more prominent.

Eye strain

Looking at a TV, computer, or phone screen for too long can cause your eyes to strain, also enlarging blood vessels.

Allergies

An increase in histamines, triggered by dust, pollen, or other irritants, can make your blood vessels dilate and become more visible. Rubbing the area may cause inflammation and further broken blood vessels, resulting in dark spots under your eyes.

Genetics

In some cases, dark circles can be hereditary. If other family members have them, you might do as well.

Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation occurs when the body produces an excess of melanin, turning an area of skin slightly darker. People with darker skin tones are more likely to experience this.

How can I treat dark spots under my eyes?

While eye-brightening concealers may help to hide any dark spots or circles, they won’t get rid of them entirely. And although cold compresses, cucumber slices and cold tea bags may offer relief, it will usually be temporary.

And it’s not always as easy as improving your quality of sleep – although you can do this by sticking to a restful routine and elevate your head with extra pillows to reduce morning puffiness.

The truth about eye-creams…

The rationale behind a separate eye cream is that they are more suitable to sensitive skin. If you’re dealing with puffiness, a cream with caffeine will help, and eye creams can also be incredibly beneficial in providing active ingredients such as retinoids at lower concentrations.

However, with eye creams designed to hydrate, brighten, and plump, they often include the same ingredients as the face cream you will be using. And if you suffer with specific issues such as dark spots and circles it’s unlikely a separate cream will perform better than what you are using on the rest of your face.

Your doctor may prescribe a topical bleaching treatment, which would include hydroquinone or tretinoin, or a combination of the two. But if they still don’t give you the results you would like, a cosmetic treatment might be the next step.

Chemical peels

Chemical peels – in particular those using glycolic or salicylic acid – can help target the hyperpigmentation around your eyes, by removing dead skin and encouraging new cell growth.

Fillers

For those with thinning skin, an under-eye hyaluronic acid filler – or ‘tear-trough’ filler – can provide the extra volume you need to cover up those dark circles.

This non-surgical treatment usually takes around 30 minutes. Results last up to 12 months.

Fat transfer

As with fillers, fat transfer (taken from another part of the body via liposuction and then injected under the eyes) reduces the hollowed eye look. It’s more complicated that fillers but the results last longer.

Carboxytherapy

Carboxytherapy is a relatively painless procedure that injects carbon dioxide gas beneath the skin to increase your blood circulation and adjust the pigment under your eyes. Most people require between seven and 10 sessions to achieve full results.

Laser surgery

Laser skin resurfacing might be a suitable solution if hyperpigmentation is causing your dark spots and circles. During this procedure, your clinician uses a powerful laser to remove the outer-most layer of skin on the treatment area, encouraging new skin cell growth and boosting collagen production for a tighter, brighter appearance.

IPL

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment also uses light to help remove dark circles but is a more suitable option for those who have small blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Unlike laser, it doesn’t damage the outer layer of the skin’s surface, instead closing off capillaries or vessels just below the skin’s surface.

Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion around the eyes uses a diamond-tipped exfoliating device to encourage new cells to grow. It’s most effective if your dark circles are caused by pigmentation, especially if it’s the result of sun exposure.

Blepharoplasty

This surgical option is for those who are experiencing dark circles because of sagging skin or fatty bags under their eyes. Fat can be surgically removed from the lower lid which can decrease the shadow cast by your eyelid, alleviating the appearance of dark circles.

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